Traditionally known for our beer and bratwurst, Milwaukee has a new status: The country’s most segregated region.
When it comes to this country’s New Jim Crow, “We’re Number One.”
Jim Crow—legally mandated segregation, bolstered by beatings, lynchings and restrictions on the right to vote—helped overturn many advances after the end of slavery. Today, the New Jim Crow is taking aim at the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, using tools such as mass incarceration, voting restrictions, gerrymandering, zoning requirements, deportations, and “stand-your-ground” laws.
To cite one chilling statistic in the New Jim Crow: The incarceration rate for African- American men in Wisconsin is the highest in the United States—in a nation that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.
It is impossible to underestimate the impact of Milwaukee’s New Jim Crow on our children, our communities, and our public schools.
In the Milwaukee region, as is true nationally, housing patterns determine school demographics. Due to racial and economic segregation, our schools are increasingly segregated. Due to funding disparities, they are both separate and unequal.
The abandonment of our communities and public schools also has spread to our democracy. In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican- dominated state legislature passed one of the strictest Voter ID bills in the country, with the issue still before the courts. This spring, the legislature drastically curtailed early voting. The measures are in line with a national campaign to suppress the vote.
If the Milwaukee region is serious about equal opportunity—from jobs to schools to healthcare to voting rights—we must dismantle the region’s racial and economic segregation. It will require a broad-based effort involving transportation, housing, economic development, criminal justice, voting rights, and school enrollment policies.